- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Senate will likely miss the deadline for approving a federal budget, forgoing the annual blueprint that is supposed to govern all spending, and instead will write bills based on a higher dollar total than the one John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, agreed to with President Obama last year before stepping down as House speaker.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said Tuesday that he is counting on Democrats to cooperate in exchange for sticking to the higher spending level. If Democrats cooperate, he said, Congress may be able to pass all of the dozen annual spending bills one by one, rather than wait for a year-end omnibus package that all sides say is a bad way to govern.

Senate Republicans began the year hoping to approve a budget — the nonbinding blueprint that is supposed to govern the 12 spending bills — but they faced the same divide as Republicans in the House, where conservatives demanded deeper cuts than envisioned in last year’s debt deal.

“The budget issue has yet to be determined over here, but we’re going to go forward and approve as many appropriations bills as we possibly can, consistent with the number we agreed to last fall,” Mr. McConnell said after emerging from a weekly meeting with Senate Republicans.

The sticking point on the budget is $30 billion in domestic spending hikes that Mr. Boehner and Mr. Obama agreed to for 2017.

Conservatives say Congress should cut $30 billion in either discretionary or entitlement spending to offset the increases.

Without agreement, Republicans are certain to miss the April 15 deadline set by law for approving a fiscal 2017 blueprint, delivering a black eye to Republican leaders, who wanted to return to “regular order” and tackle the basics of governing in a topsy-turvy election year.

Republicans repeatedly mocked Senate Democrats for failing to produce a blueprint when they controlled the upper chamber.

But Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said Tuesday that he is fine with moving ahead without a new budget and instead sticking with the spending levels in last year’s Bipartisan Budget Act.

“Amen, sister, it sounds good to me,” he said, adding that he had few qualms about ignoring the budget process.

“They don’t have one, so there’s nothing to ignore,” he said of Senate Republicans.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, has said he still wants Congress to pass a budget, but the conservative rebellion may have doomed those chances. He, like Mr. McConnell, has given the OK to his spending committee to write bills even without a new budget.

In the House, appropriators have released their bill to fund veterans programs and military construction for 2017, calling for $81.6 billion — $1.8 billion above this year’s levels.

The Appropriations Committee says that figure is a best guess in the absence of a budget and could change.

It’s unclear when the panel might decide on spending levels for the other 11 annual appropriations bills.

“Discussions amongst members continue on the best way to proceed with the budget,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said Tuesday.

In the Senate, Budget Committee Chairman Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, said he will certify a 2017 discretionary spending level of $1.07 trillion after April 15, giving appropriators the green light to divvy up the money.

Meanwhile, some conservatives say time is running out to find a must-pass vehicle for cuts they have demanded. They have pointed to a bill pending before the Senate that would reauthorize Federal Aviation Administration programs as the last best hope before the July recess.

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